Close to home

Let’s be clear: The current hot air around marriage equality in Australia is not a debate. The term “debate” implies rational discussion on both sides. There is no debate here. Just as the video going around about the Safe Schools anti-bullying programme peddles outright lies about the content of the programme, the “debate” around marriage equality consists of conservatives screaming “but think of the children” and other unrelated, emotive cries, and progressives saying “it’s a human rights issue”.

There is no place for debate here. There is nothing to debate. It’s like saying racial segregation needs to be debated. Nope. It really doesn’t. According people basic human rights should never be up for debate. You don’t get to declare me more, or less, worthy of human rights than you are. And I don’t get to do that to you. Because we are, or are trying to be, a civilized society that believes in justice.

There is no way to “debate” this, without saying that gay people aren’t full members of society.

The chances are that this ludicrous postal vote will come down to marketing. Who has the best campaign? Who mobilises more people to vote?  It will come down to who has the most persuasive arguments.

But there’s one argument used on the left that makes me a little sad. It’s probably effective, but that makes me even sadder. It’s this line: “I have a loved one who is gay, that’s why marriage equality is important to me.”

It makes sense that we care about things that hit close to home. But this is why the Australian government is still getting away with torturing refugees, and why marriage equality is not a done deal. Because human rights are only important to us when they are being denied to someone we care about.

As it happens, I do have loved ones who are gay. Given the numbers, we almost certainly all do, whether we know it or not. But that’s not why marriage equality matters.

Marriage equality matters because without it we are telling gay kids that they are less than straight ones.

Marriage equality matters because without it we are telling gay couples that their love is less than straight couples’.

Let’s turn that around: Marriage equality matters because gay people are people just like straight ones. Marriage equality matters because a gay relationship is just as committed, just as valuable, and sometimes just as broken, as any straight relationship. Marriage equality matters because we need to prove to gay kids that they are fully paid up members of this club we call “civilized society”. Marriage equality matters because gay kids, gay adults, and gay relationships matter, just the same as straight ones.

Not because it’s close to me, or close to you. Because love should be celebrated, and people should be valued. Your sexuality is not relevant to anyone you’re not trying to go to bed with. It should not be the deciding factor in any other decision anyone else makes.

Marriage equality matters because people are people, and love is love.




Why marriage equality matters

I have read so many arguments around gay marriage. From impassioned pleas, to shrugging “meh, marriage is dead. Why bother?” essays that seek to convince us that marriage equality really doesn’t matter.

I don’t believe marriage is dead, because I know that deciding to get married made a difference to my relationship. In my head, whenever we argued, I used to think “well, if we can’t work it out, I can just walk away.” There always seemed to be an out. But once we got engaged I stopped thinking that, and started thinking instead “ok, how do we fix this?”

I recognise that not everyone thinks that way. And arguing that it’s important to me does not in any way make it important to anyone else, except maybe my husband!

But here’s why I think it’s important, more than any other reason:

Because we are currently allowing our government to say that same sex relationships are not worth as much as straight ones.

Yesterday the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony included John Barrowman kissing a man. Instantly social media was buzzing, with people falling over themselves to say how great it was. I can’t help but wish we were better than that.

No-one would have said how great it was to see a straight kiss in the opening ceremony. A gay kiss should not be remarkable. Kisses happen every day, in quite unremarkable ways. There are passionate kisses. Casual pecks. Lingering and tender kisses. Between men and men, women and women, and men and women. They are not remarkable. They are life. And it saddens me deeply that it is still remarkable to see a gay kiss in a public forum.

We still say “ooh! Look! Ian Thorpe is gay!” and chatter about it at apparently infinite length. We still find other people’s sexuality fascinating, when it is nothing to do with us. And we are still ok with politicians, even our Prime Minister, saying that gays must not be allowed to marry. That marriage is between a man and a woman, and that any other relationship is not as valid, not as worthy, a little bit wrong.

Marriage equality is only a little bit about marriage, but it is all about equality. About recognising, FINALLY, that people are people, and that a loving relationship is a loving relationship, regardless of whether the genders form a traditional matched set.

While we say it’s ok for our politicians to argue that gay relationships are not as real as straight ones, how can we argue that our kids should not tease gays in the playground, and that workplaces should not discriminate against gays when hiring, or indeed firing?

We say that gay youth should be able to come out without fear of discrimination. We say we care about their mental health. We say it’s just as ok to be gay as it is to be straight. But we clearly don’t mean it. Because we also say at the highest levels that gay marriage can’t be real.

I believe in tolerance, and respecting other people’s viewpoints, but I find it increasingly difficult to tolerate or respect the point of view that says, in effect, all men are equal – but some are more equal than others. Surely we are better than that?

Live and let bonk

The Age reported today that a British MP was “outed” as bisexual, which may have “scuppered his prospects of leading the Liberal Democrat party”.  The article dealt with the matter as a straightforward result of the whole hacking scandal which has had the press in paroxysms for what seems like years now.  It never addressed the question of why the sexuality of that MP was in any way relevant to his leadership chances.

While in these days of quiet desperation
As I wander through the world in which I live
I search everywhere for some new inspiration
But it’s more than cold reality can give

It saddens me that we are still here – in a world where being gay can scupper your chances of anything (except, possibly, a heterosexual relationship), and where being bisexual is a political liability of unassailable proportions.

How can that be? How is a politician’s sex life in any way relevant to his or her performance in office? How is anyone else’s sex life in any way relevant to me unless I am trying to pursue a sexual relationship with them?

If I need a cause for celebration
Or a comfort I can use to ease my mind
I rely on my imagination
And I dream of an imaginary time

Who I take to bed is no-one’s business except mine and my partner’s. Or partners’, should I so choose (ah, the subtle impact of apostrophe placement!). Who you take to bed is none of my business, unless it’s me.

I want to write more on this, but I am really stumped. It seems so blindingly self-evident. Sexuality is for the bedroom. It is (or should be) irrelevant to politics. Once we legalise gay marriage (and we will – it’s inevitable, get over it, move on), sexuality should not appear on the political stage. We all need to grow up.

Oh oh, and I know that everybody has a dream
Everybody has a dream, everybody has a dream
And this is my dream, my own
Just to be at home and to be all alone with you

Everybody Has a Dream, Billy Joel

I dream of a time when sexuality is irrelevant to politics – when who and how you love is up to you. Johnny Galecki, star of the Big Bang Theory said it best when questioned about the persistent rumours that he is gay, and why he has not bothered to scotch them. “Why defend yourself against something that’s not offensive?”

Why indeed?

Why labels matter

My last post, on gay marriage, generated quite a few comments. Many people, both on and off-line, seem to feel that the label is irrelevant. “Give them the same legal rights, by all means,” people said, “but why do they need the actual word “marriage”? It’ll be easier not to give it to them, and it really doesn’t make any difference.”

Indeed, this is a persuasive argument. If there is no material difference, then what does a label matter? The trouble is that I don’t think we are very good at recognising what constitutes a material difference. The human mind is a remarkably strange and pliable beast. It can be persuaded of all sorts of things without the active intervention of the conscious being that we like to believe is in control.

Psychology experiments abound with evidence of this. For example, one study asked people to remember as many words as possible out of a long list. If the list contained just a few words related to old age (words like “wrinkle”, “grey”, and “stoop”), participants would leave the building moving measurably slower than if those words were replaced with neutral ones. Just a few words, out of many, changed the way people moved. Words have power. And in this example, as in many others, the power is entirely subliminal. The people in the study did not report feeling any different. Their physical reaction was entirely under the radar of their conscious minds.

How much more powerful are the subtle linguistic signals of the social world? Call someone stupid and they will start to believe it. Praise children for their caring, and they will display ever more of it. Even the precise type of praise matters – praise people for being smart, and research shows quite clearly that they will become more cautious in their work, and more likely to cheat, as “being smart” is something they perceive as outside their control. Praise them for their effort, and they will work even harder, achieve even more, as their effort is clearly something they can control. And none of these reactions are in any way conscious.

Indeed, these subconscious impacts are very effectively rationalised away by our conscious brains. Douglas Adams provides a very good example in “The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.” Richard has just jumped into a filthy, urban canal and found himself unable to swim:

Dirk: “Do you always go swimming in the afternoons?”
Richard: “No, I usualIy go in the mornings, to the swimming pool on
Highbury Fields, just to wake myself up, get the brain going.
It just occurred to me I hadn’t been this morning.”
Dirk: “And, er – that was why you just dived into the canal?”
Richard: “Well, yes. I just thought that getting a bit of exercise
would probably help me deal with all this.”

Dirk goes on to prove, to Richard’s consternation, that he had hypnotised Richard, and ordered him to jump into the canal upon hearing the words “My old maiden aunt who lived in Winnipeg.” Dirk’s instructions went on to say that Richard, normally a good swimmer, would then find himself unable to swim.

Unable to access these instructions, Richard’s conscious mind found good reasons why he would jump into a filthy canal, and why he couldn’t swim (cramp).

Of course, this is a work of fiction, but it is a perfectly realistic example of the way the mind works. Given a subconscious prompting of which our conscious brain is entirely unaware, we will happily explain it away with reasons that we believe with utter conviction – but that are entirely false.

The things we do, and the words we choose, send messages to ourselves, our children, and our society, all the time. Choosing to deny marriage to gay people sends a loud, clear, and appalling message that we believe them to be lesser people. That gay parents are inferior to straight ones. That gay relationships are less real, less valid, and less worthy than straight ones.

That we’d really rather not admit that it is just as normal, healthy, and rational to be gay as it is to be straight. For those of you who cringed at that last sentence, I give you this lovely summary (seen on twitter):

Homosexuality is found in over 500 species. Homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?

I believe that legislating to make gay marriage legal will, over time, drastically lower homophobia in our society. Of course, I can’t prove it just yet. But I’d love to have the chance to try.

Straight talking

Some things are difficult to explain, simply because they seem so profoundly obvious. My post on climate change felt rather like that. I found it hard to express myself, because it all seemed so fundamental, so clear, that it was difficult to grasp why or how anyone would need it explained. Nonetheless it sparked a fairly vigorous debate.

Legalising gay marriage seems, to me, to be a very similar topic. It feels obvious to me that anyone who who believes in equality, fairness, justice and compassion would argue that there is nothing to debate. If we disallow gay marriage, we tarnish ourselves and our society.

The tired old argument that “marriage is between a man and a woman” isn’t actually an argument at all. It is a statement of history. Sure, we used to discriminate. We used to discriminate on the basis of race, of gender, and of postcode. Once the statement was a little different. Once people would have said “marriage is between a man and a woman of the same race,” with just as much emphasis and strength of feeling. Possibly more. Yet now we recognise the fundamental insanity of that statement. Love does not recognise skin colour or genetic makeup.

Denying gay couples the right to marry does not protect marriage. This unattributed quote, seen on twitter, sums it up beautifully: “So, let me get this straight…Charlie Sheen can make a “porn family”, Kelsey Grammer can end a 15 year marriage over the phone, Larry King can be on divorce #9, Britney Spears had a 55 hour marriage, Jesse James and Tiger Woods, while married, were having sex with EVERYONE. Yet the idea of same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage? Really?”

Legalising gay marriage is no threat to my conventional, heterosexual marriage. But maintaining discrimination is a threat to my children. Whether they grow up gay, straight, or endearingly twisted, I want my daughters to grow up in a world where people are treated fairly and equally. Where people are valued for their minds and their hearts. Where their sexuality is their own concern, and of no interest to anyone outside their private lives.

We are not teaching our children that right now. We are teaching our children that gay relationships are somehow less deserving, less valid than straight. In doing so, we damage and divide our own community, just as much as we did when we discriminated on the basis of race. (I am rather naively assuming we don’t do that anymore – but we have at least achieved something when no-one, not even Andrew Bolt, wants to admit to doing it.)

Similarly, the argument that we could recognise gay relationships in a legal sense, without actually using the word marriage, is a decoy away from the real issue: equality. We could do that. It might even be an easier fight. But what would it achieve? We don’t gain anything by locking gay relationships out of marriage, but we lose a lot. Don’t give me dictionary or religious definitions of the word marriage. Give me, instead, the dictionary definition of equality.

It is time to state firmly, loudly, and unequivocally, that all people are equal and valued, whether gay, straight or kinky. The true measure of a couple’s relationship is in their love and commitment, not in their sexuality. One day we will look back and be appalled that this topic was ever debated, just as we look back on racial segregation with horror. Let’s bring that day forward.

*Australian MPs are consulting their constituents about gay marriage right now. Email your MP today.